PEN Sydney calls on the newly elected President of Iran, Ibrahim Raisi, to free all members of the Iranian Writers’ Association (IWA) immediately.
On 11 October 2020 three Iranian writers entered the notorious Evin prison to serve sentences related to their critical writing. All three are members of the Iranian Writers’ Association (IWA) and each has published numerous books of Iranian history, sociology and literary criticism.
All three prisoners need vital medical support. In April 2021 Baktash Abtin’s lawyer announced that he had caught Covid but did not receive the required treatment. More recently, PEN Sydney heard from the prisoners that another wave of Coronavirus has been sweeping through the prison and they say their lives are at risk. Reza Khandan Mahabadi suffers from hypertension and osteoarthritis in his neck. Keyvan Bajan suffers from thyroid disease. Neither of them were taken to hospital.
They were convicted on counts of spreading propaganda against the system, illegal assembly and collusion against national security, related to their joint authorship of a book about the history of the IWA, which has for decades been critical of successive Iranian governments. They were also accused of visiting the graves of dissident poets and writers.
In early June 2021 they released this statement:
To all writers and freedom-loving people who demand “freedom of expression for all, everywhere”. The Iranian Writers Association, of which we are members, has been active for more than half a century, in the global movement for freedom of expression, a movement whose voice needs to be heard. As well as the daily threats against this freedom, that are made by established powers, a huge number of people are completely deprived of it, including the Iranian writers and people (of Iran). We are in prison now and must endure sentences of 13.5 years collectively because we are writers who are against censorship and demand freedom of expression without any exceptions and limits. We are not the first prisoners and oppressed people of this movement and until “freedom of expression for all, everywhere” is fulfilled we won't be the last.
Reza Khandan Mahabadi
They told their story to Sydney president Mark Isaacs.
In his closing comments, Baktash Abtin said “… freedom has never been gifted to anyone on a gold plate. In a country like Iran, death is very cheap for intellectuals, freedom loving people and those who fight for freedom of expression. […] we are not worried about facing trials, going to prison and enduring suffering, because we have made up our minds. […]